Antwerp, Belgium – A man arrested earlier this month in Ottawa, Canada, for the 1980 bombing of a Paris synagogue in which four people died and 20 others were injured is also considered in Belgium as a suspect for a bomb attack in the diamond quarter in Antwerp one year later.
Hassan Diab, a part-time sociology instructor at the University of Ottawa, was arrested at his home in Quebec on November 13 on a provisional extradition warrant at the request of French authorities. The 55-year-old man of Palestinian origin has Lebanese and Canadian passports and lived in the US for several years before moving to Canada.
On October 20, 1981, a bomb exploded near a synagogue in the Hovenierstraat, the main street of the diamond area in Antwerp. Three people died and more than hundred were injured in the attack attributed at the time to the terror group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The perpetrators were never found.
In Paris, the bomb was planted in a bag attached to a motorbike that was parked outside the synagogue in the Rue Copernic street, in the 16th district of Paris.
Diab appeared before an Ottawa court last Friday. Court documents say that former acquaintances of Diab have said that he and his ex-wife were members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which the man denied.
The court file also says that he resembles a man depicted in police sketches of the bomber, that a handwriting analyst says his writing matches that of the bomber and that a passport suggests he was in Europe at the time.
Diab’s defence lawyer, René Duval, said his client was a victim of mistaken identity.
The Forum of Jewish Organisations in Antwerp (FJO) welcomed the news of the suspect’s arrest.
“Today one can surely say that the attack against the diamond quarter was racist and aimed at the Jewish community. The bomb was planted in a car which was parked in front of the synagogue,” the Forum stressed in a statement.
“Even though it happened nearly thirty years ago, the victims still want justice’,” it said.
The group called on Belgium to request Diab’s extradition, like France did, in order to bring him to justice. According to the Belgian media, such a demand is likely to be made in the next few days.
A decision on whether the suspect will be extradited to France is expected within the next two weeks.